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southern fashion

Designer: Cavortress

From: Charleston, South Carolina

Try to strike up a conversation about swimsuit shopping with most women, and they’ll recoil with fear. Standing under fluorescent lighting in front of a three-way mirror, every angle and square inch of nylon and lycra under scrutiny. Julie Wheat, founder and designer of Cavortress, helps eliminate some of those pangs with her line of high quality, figure-flattering swimsuits and cover-ups based out of Charleston, South Carolina. 

southern fashion

As a teenager, Wheat designed and sewed bags for the orchard industry. She later became a vintage-clothing slinger and got so many requests for swimwear that she decided to manufacture her own line of retro-inspired suits. Wheat also has a background in fine art and graphic design and has worked as a stylist and costume designer for a number of TV shows and films. Last year, she accepted an adjunct professorship at the Art Institute of Charleston in the Fashion Retail Management program, while simultaneously launching Cavortress.

For Wheat, the design process is a formula, and she is in control of the entire process—from designing the prints, selecting Italian hardware and fabrics, and the garment’s construction. Everything is manufactured in the United States in a Los Angeles factory, which is rare for swimwear lines, as bathing suits are difficult to produce. One benefit of manufacturing in America is a shorter lead time. The downside, of course, is the higher cost, making it more difficult to compete with large-scale, name-brand swimsuit designers that function with a much higher profit margin.

southern fashion

One edge up over the big brands, though, is Wheat’s use of social media. By engaging customers in online conversations, she builds a sense of trust with the consumer. “[It’s a] new time and age—how people make consumer choices is relationship driven.” Another way Wheat promotes Cavortress is by participating in fashion weeks. The line has been on the runway in Charleston, St. Louis, and New Orleans, as well as Viva Las Vegas, Miami Swim, and Style X in Austin, Texas.  

Cavortress bathing suits are basic enough to wear with ease, free from gaudy hardware or extraneous embellishments. It’s just the type of suit that will elicit a coveted “she looks great” reaction without trying too hard to be noticed. Her 2012 line features a variety of styles, from sophisticated maillots to sportier boy shorts and classic string bikinis. Large floral patterns are made crisp on a white background, while an anchor pattern is made fresh thanks to Wheat’s original designs. And Cavortress suits aren’t just for sitting around looking pretty by the pool: Wheat is an avid surfer, and all of her designs are worthy of the board. So throw on a Cavortress silk crepe de chine caftan, and look like you’ve been primping for hours instead of hanging ten on the roughest of waves.

southern fashion

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